Who seeks poll on rights

The World Health Organization has issued its strongest edict on patients' rights which is likely to be taken up by consumer pressure groups around the world.

The WHO's Assembly, or parliament, has passed a resolution that states patients have the right to be given factual, supportable, understandable and appropriate information about medicines and their side effects.

While the resolution will have no direct impact on governments or medicine around the world, it does set a new standard for all consumer groups to follow and to fight for.

It came about following intense lobbying by consumer groups and was based on the Council for International Organizations of Medical Science/WHO 1993 report on the ethical criteria for drug promotion.

There was equally intense lobbying from industry to get the report killed, but the consumer groups won the battle.

The move to greater openness could have several ramifications. "A world in which more patients are asking their doctors about the side effects of medical treatment will lead to a much wider public understanding of our ignorance of many effects," said Malcolm Dean, writing in The Lancet (18 June, 1994).

Although British doctors are required to provide information to patients, they are free to decide just how much they say if they feel it is in the patient's best interests not to know.